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Senior Planet, AARP's Virtual Community Center Offer Free Classes for Popular Apps

Live video courses allow students to ask questions in real time as they learn, be part of a community

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Getty/AARP

En español | Nothing beats having an expert by your side as you learn a skill.

But such at-home help can be expensive — $20 to as much as $100 an hour in person — if your kids or grandkids aren't patient teachers. The next best thing is a live, online class where no one will laugh when you ask questions, and where instructors know the value of repetition.

Through AARP's affiliate nonprofit Senior Planet, as well as AARP's own Virtual Community Center, older adults can learn how to use some of the most popular smartphone software in live classes that often have as few as 12 to 15 people. And they're free.


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"The live experience is very compelling to people,” even the live, virtual programs that Senior Planet has moved to entirely during the pandemic, says Tom Kamber, executive director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) and its Senior Planet subsidiary.

A lot of people will use Google to search for help on a task they don't know, from fixing their water heaters to learning more about technology. But live online classes allow for immediate interaction with an instructor and socializing with other students that can't be duplicated with a TV-like experience and typing into a comments box in hopes of getting feedback, he says.

Learn live and online

AARP has two places where you can sign up for free online classes and workshops, including classes on how to use apps:

• Senior Planet's upcoming events

• AARP's Virtual Community Center, including its Tech Help category

"We've been told over and over [from the students age 60 and older who take Senior Planet classes] that people benefit from asking questions,” Kamber says. “Very motivated people can benefit from those YouTube videos, but don't tell yourself it will be easy."

Not much research has been done on the merits of live video courses versus recorded video. But anecdotal evidence suggests that people of all ages find it more difficult to stick with prerecorded instructional videos because of distractions while they're viewing or just a drop-off in interest.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology study, published in 2014, that looked at 6.9 million video-watching sessions contained in college-level free or low-cost massive open online courses found that the median time a student spent on a recorded video was about six minutes, no matter how long the video was. If a video was longer than nine minutes, students dropped off at about the halfway mark.

Most Senior Planet courses, all of which are live, last about an hour, though some are shorter. And some people like to stay online afterward to socialize, especially if they've seen or listened to participants in other classes, Kamber says.

"We've been told over and over that people benefit from asking questions [in a class]. ... Very motivated people can benefit from those YouTube videos, but don't tell yourself it will be easy."

— Tom Kamber, executive director, Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) and Senior Planet

Free classes in the Tech Help area of the AARP Virtual Community Center, which instructors from Senior Planet and AARP state offices teach, range from 45 to 90 minutes, with most in the 45- to 60-minute range, says Heather Nawrocki, AARP's vice president of fun and fulfillment. You'll find classes not only on how to use popular apps but also on other technology such as cloud storage.

"Our strategy for fun and fulfillment is on the ‘edutainment’ side of things, to give you an [educational] distraction for an hour,” Nawrocki says.

Some Senior Planet classes are available in Spanish and Chinese, the second- and third-most-spoken languages in the United States. Classes are scheduled based on what Senior Planet participants say they want and need, says Suzanne Myklebust, a spokeswoman for OATS/Senior Planet.

Among Senior Planet's how-to classes offered periodically about specific apps:

  • Food delivery apps like Amazon Fresh, Instacart and Seamless
  • Health and fitness applications, both built into your smartphone and in the app stores
  • Map apps such as Google Maps
  • Meditation and mindfulness apps
  • Messaging apps such as iMessages and WhatsApp
  • Mobile payment apps like Cash App, Paypal and Venmo
  • Music apps such as Spotify
  • Ride-hailing apps such as Lyft and Uber
  • Social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
  • Telehealth and electronic health record apps
  • Videoconferencing apps such as Zoom

Several of the classes offered will help you learn more about a dozen popular apps you probably know about already — or should.

"Being part of the community is a big part of the success,” Kamber says.
 


AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Join today and get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life. 


Linda Dono is an executive editor for AARP. Previously, she served as a reporter and editor for USA Today, Gannett News Service and newspapers in four states, including the Cincinnati Enquirer.

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